Chapel Hill vs Carrboro

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are related but they have significant differences. I love them both like family. I feel like their little brother constantly annoyed with one or the other but will remain steadfastly in love with them both till the day I die.

Many of my fellow Chapel Hillians do not understand these differences. They see Franklin Street and Main Street in Carrboro as one long business thoroughfare. It’s not. I don’t mean to pick on Chapel Hill residents, both students and townies, but if you don’t spend a lot of time in Carrboro you wouldn’t know. The Towns have very unique histories that contain deep seated differences forged in race, class, and ideology. All fueled by the money and intellectual power of the University of North Carolina.

Yesterday I had a great conversation with several Chapel Hillians. They where a retired Town of Chapel Hill employee, a downtown business leader, a few University employees, and others who I do not know well. Our gathering was random.

At one point someone said, and I paraphrase, “Why does Chapel Hill and Carrboro have separate fire and police departments?” A smart gentleman that knows what he’s talking about said, “When we’ve discussed it the final conclusion has always been, ‘Hell no!’.” I took that as a definitive answer from a real source in the know. It also happens to be how I feel about the situation.

For the past four years I’ve been running a small business in Carrboro. It would NEVER have launched without the Town of Carrboro. A Alderman, a Economic Development Director, and the Mayor and other Alderman made it possible. Though the Town of Carrboro Revolving Loan Fund I was able to give this business a real go. This is a resource the Town of Carrboro has had since 1986. The Town of Chapel Hill just got a Economic Development Director a few years ago and gave out it’s first business loan recently.

The best way for me to sum this up is Chapel Hill follows Carrboro’s lead. Carrboro sets trends in numerous areas. The arts, environmental protection, economic development, transportation with many bike lanes, and more.

As far as I can tell the major start of Carrboro’s leadership is in the 1980’s when a few liberal folks where elected to the Carrboro Board of Alderman. Previously the board was dominated by local white men who held much more traditional values. Before the Carr Mill closed for the last time Carrboro was primarily a working class white Town. In the 1970’s it’s affordable housing attracted ex-students and others to migrate their from Chapel Hill and beyond. Soon a very new type of community formed in Carrboro and made it a very different place.

I need to do more research on this. To my knowledge there are no documents that explain just how Carrboro came to be the visionary leader it is. I only surmised this by knowing Carrboro didn’t always have the liberal reputation it has now. With that rep came a big dream for the future. One that has come true in many ways.

Note: For those who have lived here longer than I and know more historical facts I welcome your tweaks and corrections to my assertions about our local history.

High-speed Internet must be a part of Carrboro's infrastructure

People who live, work and visit Carrboro love the free wireless Internet. But the Town of Carrboro’s wireless is a victim of its own success. I’ve heard from a lot of people who have problems with it and wish it worked in their homes. Fact is, the area the wireless signal covers is too small, the connection is unreliable and the bandwidth is too little. Now is the time for the Town of Carrboro to take the next step. I propose the town support the construction of fiber optic Internet connections to buildings within the downtown business district.

The idea of building a fiber optic network in Carrboro isn’t farfetched. Matter of fact, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT) and the Town of Chapel Hill are already working on it. The Town of Carrboro and the Town of Chapel Hill share an old copper-wire traffic-signal system. Last year, the Town of Chapel Hill budgeted $50,000 toward a joint investment with NC DOT to replace this old signal system with fiber optics. One strand is planned for traffic signals and another is for the town’s use. Little has been publicly discussed about this project, which is slated for completion in 2012.

The small size of Carrboro’s downtown makes the cost of extending the network practical – primarily because the distances from traffic signals to local businesses are short. Right now, the Town of Carrboro rents the signal system from the Town of Chapel Hill. If Carrboro isn’t a full partner in this resource, they may not have the power to build our future access. Supposedly, the NC DOT is trying to squeeze the Town of Chapel Hill for more money to build a fiber loop. Now is a good time for Carrboro to put in.

There’s already a large customer base for high-speed Internet service in Carrboro. We have five planned new construction projects, including a mixed-use hotel, office and retail space. Public safety organizations like rescue, fire and police also could use the bandwidth, not to mention other creative and talented people. Fiber optic Internet can provide reliable upload and download speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. We can do a lot with that!

Diversifying our community’s tax base to relieve stress on property tax has been a goal for years. One way to do that is by enticing new businesses to move here and convincing existing ones to stay. A major bit of bait can be fiber-speed bandwidth for data and voice. Now is the time to invest in building the last mile of high-speed infrastructure in Carrboro. Not later, after the recession has killed development projects. Not after the Town of Chapel Hill gets around to doing something, but now on the cusp of major national infrastructure projects promised by our new president-elect.

Brian Russell is founder of Orange Networking, orangenetworking.org

(The above is an article I wrote for the Carrboro Citizen.)

The Journey to Build a Coworking Space

More specifically its a journey to build a sustainable coworking space. By sustainable I mean it should financially support itself and its operator (me) plus employees. I’m doing the best I can to document this unique journey. Mostly on the biz blog at carrborocoworking.com.

So far I’ve recorded five videos. Hope to do more. You can watch them here carrborocoworking.com/category/topic/video

This one is the latest.

Refresh the Triangle at Carrboro Creative Coworking

Thursday, Oct 23, 2008 from 6:30pm to 8pm Carrboro Creative Coworking will be hosting Refresh the Triangle. This is a great meetup that I’ve been to several times. (Not nearly as often as I’d like though.) Each time I’ve learned something valuable and met great people. We’ll have free pizza and drinks too.

Our topic is Unearthed Arcana for Web People. From the Refresh website:

Clinton Nixon, senior developer at Viget Labs, will present and facilitate this talk about how to avoid trivial, repetitive tasks and increase your productivity with your computer. We’ll cover both software you already have, and free/cheap software you might not. If you’ve got a tip of your own, bring it! We’ll have some free time to share at the end.

Check out all our events on our Google Calendar. Many more on the way!